Showing just how far they’ve come from last year, their first together as a team, the Cowichan Valley atom female hockey team dismantled the competition on their way to winning gold at a tournament in Kamloops last weekend.
“The girls played really well,” head coach Brad Scafe said. “I can’t ask for much more.”
Over five games in three days, the Cowichan girls scored 57 goals and gave up just three, including a 2-1 win over Kelowna in the final. The team annihilated the competition in pool play, sweeping away two teams from Kamloops and one each from Williams Lake and Chilliwack. Every girl on the team scored at least once in the tournament.
“Three of our girls scored their first-ever goal this weekend,” Scafe said. “There were a couple of teary-eyed moms in the stands, for sure.”
The Kelowna team was definitely the best opponent Cowichan faced on the weekend.
“They were good,” Scafe said. “They had a good goalie. We probably had three or four clear-cut breakaways, and we scored on one of them. She stood tall.”
Cowichan was up 2-0 before Kelowna scored with about five minutes left. Kelowna poured on the pressure after that, including a breakaway opportunity with about 10 seconds left to play, which goalie Sophia Kennedy denied.
“They definitely had some big chances late,” Scafe said.
The coaches put the team together last year, Cowichan’s first all-female atom team. They struggled at the beginning of the season, with some lopsided losses, but improved as things went along. Almost all the girls came back, adding a couple of new players who blended in really well.
“We work a lot on skating and puck-handling,” Scafe noted. “They’ve all improved a ton.”
The only all-girls team in the Mid Island atom rec league, the team was near the bottom of the standings last season, but so far this year they sit first overall with four wins and a tie in their first five games.
“When they lost last year, they were still a positive group,” Scafe recalled. “They all stuck it out, and they’re reaping the benefits of that now.”
The girls don’t mind competing against boys — especially when they win.
“They know if they want games, that’s who we’ve got to play,” Scafe said. “And when girls beat boys teams, I’m not gonna lie, it feels pretty good. They go in as the underdog.”
Most of the girls, including Scafe’s daughter, Alijah, played on mixed teams in the novice level, but have thrived on the all-female squad.
“If you’re female and playing on a boys team, you’re segregated a lot,” Scafe said. “You change in a different room, and you might be one of two girls on the team. It’s a huge thing. They all love playing there. It’s a tight-knit group.”
All the players have echoed the same sentiment, the coach stated.
“They’ve all said it’s the best thing that could happen to them, being able to play in their own group.”
The coaches are equally pleased with how things are going.
“It’s fun to be part of it, to help them develop and watch them get better and compete,” Scafe said. “We’re trying to grow girls hockey. Last year was [this group’s] first year of girls-only hockey. You’ve got to start with small steps and keep plugging away.”
Cowichan took six forwards and three defenders to the Kamloops tournament. Two other defenders couldn’t make the trip. Playing five games in three days took its toll on the skaters.
“By the end the girls were pretty tired,” Scafe said. “They slept pretty well on the way home.”
Regardless, the players were “ecstatic” with the result.
“Any time you can go away to a tournament and bring home gold, those are memories for them for a lifetime,” Scafe said.
Tournaments are vital to the team’s success, since that’s the only opportunity the players have to compete against other all-female teams. Fortunately, the parents understand and support the travel. The Cowichan team has three other tournaments this year, including one they will host in early January.
“We’re just a rec team, but in order for us to play other girls teams in tournaments, we’ve got to travel,” Scafe explained. “They all realize that. When you’re able to have success like that, every parent said the same thing: you can’t put a price on that.”